Authors: Sarah Fine
BY SARAH FINE
UARDS OF THE
Captive: A Guard’s Tale from Malachi’s Perspective
Vigilante: A Guard’s Tale from Ana’s Perspective
Stories from the Shadowlands
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2015 Sarah Fine
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by 47North, Seattle
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and 47North are trademarks of
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Cover design by Cliff Nielsen
For Sue, my strong, clever friend.
Keep vanquishing your enemies, my dear.
oros might have been born of darkness, but that didn’t mean he shied away from the light. As he sat on the rocks outside the entrance to the cave, he closed his eyes and lifted his chin, enjoying the brilliant afternoon sun on his face. The breeze carried a faintly bitter, metallic tang—fumes that wafted from the sprawling slums and makeshift factories of Beirut, now a megacity with edges that butted up against the long-dry bed of the Al-Kalb River at the base of this peak. Beggars and refugees had pitched their tents on every flat piece of earth along the winding trail up the hillside, poverty spreading up from the metropolis like a fungus. Only here at the highest point did the crowd thin and the noise fade. The last time he sat in this spot, forest had carpeted the slope that now stretched bleak and dusty for miles. The air had carried only the scents of leaves and wood smoke and the wool of nearby grazing sheep.
Then again, that had been centuries ago. He laughed softly, remembering how he’d once believed he had made time his slave. He’d mistakenly thought he would only need to fight each battle once to enjoy victories that stretched long and unending into the future. Now every minute seemed precious.
“Who comes for the grim reaper at the end?” he muttered as he glanced at the dark cave, the earth’s waiting mouth. He stood up and dusted his hands off on his trousers, already knowing the answer. He wasn’t ready to give up yet, though. He might be the personification of doom and the leader of a vast army of Kere, the bringers of death, but he was not prepared to surrender his own life. He had fought too hard for it—and now he was searching for the weapon that would bring him the ultimate victory.
He felt a familiar pricking deep within him. Usually, when Atropos cut the thread of someone’s life, signaling it was time to reap the soul, Moros passed along the duty to one of his Kere with the ease of a fleeting thought. But this time, there was every reason to do the job himself. He sensed the soul nearby, and he wasn’t eager for anyone to know he was here—he had been betrayed so many times that he had no idea who he could trust. He closed his eyes and let the face of the doomed human rise in his mind, one with olive skin and black hair much like his own, unlined and youthful. He could feel the man approaching, his footsteps light and agile on the rocky spill above the cave’s entrance. “I’ll return for you soon,” he whispered.
Moros envisioned his destination—the cavern nestled deep within this peak, down in the earth where the heat alone would have killed any human. Unlike them, he had been created in that heat and pushed into this realm to serve fate, cut from the soul of Night herself.
Now it was time to pay Nyx a little visit—his mother was the key to finding what he needed. The mist beaded on his skin as he stepped through the Veil and into the depths of the cave. Though the darkness was complete, Moros knew he was standing on the shore of an underground lake, its black waters lapping at the rocks beneath his feet. He inhaled the dank air.
“I never expected you to return.” The voice came from everywhere at once, the blackness made sound.
“You told me not to,” he replied, regret surging inside him for leaving her alone. “How are you?”
He could feel her in the air around him. “I am as I always have been.”
He sighed. “I don’t think so. The last time we were together, you had obsidian hair and eyes like stars. I kissed your cheek and wiped your tears. And now . . .” He waved his arm through empty space.
“There is less pain like this,” she said. “Less loneliness. Within a physical body, with walls of flesh to contain the poison, all kinds of things can fester.” Her voice echoed within the cave, and he felt it sliding along his arms and up his neck, coaxing a shiver from him that felt painfully mortal. “Now I am no longer contained.” In the distance, something pearlescent and white glittered, reflected in the ebony water of the lake. An orb, small enough to fit in the palm of his hand, was floating toward him. “This is all that is left of me now.”
The orb came to a stop, hovering a few yards away, flickering and pulsing. Divinity in its purest form, the night rolling out from it like a wave, making the darkness around it even thicker. Despite its beauty, the sight made his heart ache. He would never look upon his mother’s face again. He drew himself up straight. Later he would grieve. For now . . . “I need answers,” he said. “And help.”
“And why do you think I could offer either?”
“Because you are everywhere, and see everything.”
“Untrue. The Veil is vast. There are realms within realms.”
His eyes narrowed. “Three of your daughters, the Fates, are in one of those realms, and that is not enough to keep them safe from what is happening.
is trying to destroy us.”
“You speak as if you think I already know who.”
“Don’t you? The last time we spoke, you told me ‘Eris is gone.’ I comforted you as you wept over her, over Nemesis and Apate, too.”
The orb dimmed as the air around Moros roiled and the darkness pressed too close, oily and heavy. “Can you blame me for accepting the same fate?” she asked.
“It is a choice we all have,” he said. “But apparently it is possible to undo.”
Or you lied to me,
Nyx became quiet, the kind of quiet that is never possible in the light.
Her nothingness made him keenly aware of his own body, his skin slick with mist, his muscles tense with wariness and anger. “Eris has returned, Mother. I saw her myself. Did you know?”
“Not only has she returned, but she is working against me. Against order. She has managed to use some of my Kere for her own purposes.” Losing Mandy had been irritating. Losing Trevor? Painful. And nearly losing Eli . . . disastrous. “Somehow she’s controlling them—there are times when they aren’t under my influence. And with their help, she is responsible for scores of unauthorized human deaths. I have been called before the Keepers to explain.”
“You’ve already shown that you can deal with them.”
“The treaty that made the Ferrys mediators between me and the Keepers has stood for two thousand years. I have respected it. But because of Eris’s actions, I am being accused of violating that treaty, the penalty for which is surrendering myself to the ministrations of the Keeper of Hell.” His stomach turned at the thought. “And I suspect he has long been waiting for this opportunity to punish me.”
“I have confidence you can convince the Keepers of your innocence.”
Her indifference stung. “Even if I can, Eris has another aim. She is trying to awaken Chaos.”
He waited for her outrage to flare as he named her ancient enemy, but the orb was not only silent, but dimmed, now barely visible in the darkness. “You gave birth to me—to the Fates—to bring order to the world,” he continued. “If Chaos awakens, we will all fade, just as our birth forced him into everlasting slumber.”
“It was the beginning of the end,” she whispered.
“It was the beginning of human civilization! Before that, nothing could thrive. Advancement was not possible.”
“Look at this world, my son. To what end have humans advanced?” The orb floated out over the water, sinking deeper into darkness. “They have destroyed themselves! Their progress was so swift and thoughtless that it has brought this world to the brink of destruction.”
“But there is a predestined rhythm. The Lucinae bring souls into the world, and
reap each one at the chosen time. I serve fate, not humans.”
“For a price.”
“My fight with the Keepers was one you championed, as I recall, and it was about more than petty gold.” His eyes were glowing with anger; he could see their ruby reflection in the water. “You told me you didn’t want any child of yours to be a slave.”
“It was true,” she said, her tone softening. “And you have enjoyed your freedom, I think. You’ve done well.”
“So well that my own sibling is working against me. Is she the only one, Mother? Or are Nemesis and Apate helping her?” He doubted they’d be able to resist—Nemesis was made of vengeance and jealousy, and Apate was the original liar.
They had once been his allies. All three of them had cheered him on as he challenged the Keepers two thousand years ago. They had been the devils on his shoulder. They had been a family. “I never should have accepted their help,” he muttered.
“They never forgave you for turning your back on them.”
“I had no choice. Violating the treaty would have been a death sentence for me. And if I had continued to fight with the Keepers, it would have further damaged the fabric of fate, something I could not risk. I was treading a knife’s edge.”
“And now they seek to cut you with it.”
“Are you truly indifferent? Some of your children are trying to wake your ancient enemy, at the cost of your other children, of me, and Clotho, Atropos, and Lachesis. Should I tell them you’ve abandoned them?”
From deep in the blackness came a rumble, almost like a growl. “Would you have me take your side and stand against Eris? You are both my children.”
“Eris has brought war to my doorstep. And she has help—I know she does.” Someone who had figured out how to turn Rylan Ferry into a Ker, or something very much like one.
“As I recall, you are fond of war.”
“Being good at something isn’t the same as being fond of it.” He looked about, catching ruby shards of light in the dripping cave walls nearby—his crimson eyes reflected back at him.
“How close is he to waking?” Nyx asked.
“Chaos? He only requires the destruction of the fabric of fate, which is now unraveling at a catastrophic rate. Eris has gone after the one thread linked to all others. If she were to eliminate this human, the scientist Galena Margolis, that would be enough. But Eris’s destructive efforts are taking a toll anyway. If she wants a war, I will give her one. And if Chaos awakens, one of us will kill the other.”
“Be careful, my son. The weapon you need to vanquish him is equally deadly to you.”
It was a risk he had to take. “Where can I find it?”
“I am sure it has long since crumbled to dust.”
“Please tell me where you’ve hidden it.” He believed she was lying. He had spent the last three days—ever since Rylan Ferry had revealed Eris’s intention to awaken Chaos—consulting every ancient text in his archives, but he needed confirmation of its location from the one who had last wielded it.
“When I gave up my physical form, I gave up all connection to material things, including the Blade of Life. It is lost to us all.”
“It was dipped in the Spring of Life itself, Mother. Is it in Kailash? I know that’s where you fought him.” The ancient peak, tucked away in the Himalayas, was sacred in at least four religions, and that was no accident. It had been the birthplace of hope, of myth and meaning. “Did you hide it there?”
Her sigh pushed against him, a wall of disinterest. “Why seek something that could annihilate you?”
“When the alternative is so dire, I have no other choice.”
“Stay with me, Moros,” Nyx said abruptly. The glassy water reflecting his red eyes rippled, and the orb reappeared, far across the lake. “You have had your time. You made the Keepers meet you as an equal, and you changed the world. But nothing lasts forever, not even order and fate. Stay with me here. Humans will continue to die whether you have a physical form or join me. Aren’t you tired?”
He closed his eyes, his world a fog of crimson. “Yes.”
Of so many things.
He shook his head. “I’m not ready, Mother.”
“You have existed for thousands of years, son. You have witnessed the birth and death of empires. What is left to experience?”
A bitter chuckle escaped his throat. “What a question.”
“Not a rhetorical one, either.”
But one too painful to answer. “I will not simply give up.”
“Then do what you wish. I will not take sides.”
His throat tightened. If he relinquished his physical form and became nothing more than the glowing orb that held his divinity, would his emotions fade as well? Would it make him as unfeeling as she had become? “You have abandoned me,” he said.
Nyx was a cold black breeze across his cheeks. “We all choose our own path.”
Dejected, he willed himself into the Veil, burying himself in its gray embrace before appearing outside the cave once more. The last time he and his mother had been together, she had sent him away, his physical presence too cruel a reminder that Eris, Nemesis, and Apate had let themselves fade. And now she’d chosen the same fate, and she wanted him to join her.
Or should he will himself deep into the heart of Mount Kailash and claim the blade that could defeat his enemy—but possibly kill him in the process?
Blunt metal jabbed him in the back of the head. “Now give me your money,” said someone behind him.
Moros smiled. “Ah, my friend, is this really how you’d like it to go?” He spoke in Arabic, the man’s language. He wanted him to understand every word. “I could make this easy—or spare you no pain. But please understand that I’m giving you a choice.”
“Shut up and give me your wallet, or I’ll shoot.” The man prodded Moros again, pushing his head forward.
“We all choose our own path,” the Lord of the Kere murmured as the need spiraled inside him, an instinctive, sweet pull impossible to deny. This was who he was, who he would always be. It was why people feared him, why they hated him. But he refused to feel ashamed—he was a servant of destiny.
“I’m afraid I have no money,” he said. “So you’ll have to shoot me. There’s the barest chance it would give you a few more minutes to live.” He raised his head, easily pushing back against the gun pressed to his skull. “But I don’t think you’re fast enough.”
Moros disappeared into the Veil just as the bullet rocketed from the barrel of the gun. As he watched the young man’s shadowy form looking around in confusion, he removed his gloves and stepped behind his victim, taking in the drop of sweat on the man’s temple, the frantic ticking of his pulse, so desperate, so
. The sight drove him over the edge. He reappeared in the real world, and his fingers closed over the man’s arm, just for a moment, but it was enough.